22 Aug 2014
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Bicycle Licensing in San Mateo

According to our City Codes online we are required to license our bikes. Really?

When I was a child my friends and I proudly rode to the fire department (and although I don't remember money being involved, it must have been) and rode away with bicycle licenses. I only remember doing this once so I may have been a scofflaw at an early age.

I was stopped at a red light when a fellow bicyclist asked me if I had a license to ride in San Mateo. What? Had I heard right? I observe all the driving, common sense, and bike traffic laws. I am considerate of pedestrians. I often have to stop on the side of the road to be considerate of drivers. I stop at stop signs and let the cars there go first. So why ask me? Why not ask the kid with no helmet darting across against the light? Second, could it be true? Do I need a license to ride the streets of San Mateo?

According to the San Mateo official website, the answer is yes.

After checking the website but not finding where to apply (as it states there is a written application, so good luck first graders) I made a call to the San Mateo Police Department. The dispatcher on the business line said they were not sure where to go but thought it would be the San Mateo Fire Department main office. Unfortunately for me, they are closed on the weekends like most offices. So the mystery of where and how much to pay remains.

It does beg the question of why. I understand the helmet laws for children under 18. At what age are we required to license our bikes? Is it after training wheels are removed? Are tricycles exempt? What could the fee fund? And more importantly why doesn't everyone know about it.

I will venture a guess that this city code may have been established to aide with theft of bike recovery. The code goes on to say we must provide notice of the sale or transfer of ownership of these bikes. So I am a scofflaw once again as I sold my mountain bike and gave a nephew another bike. Dear officer in charge, if you are reading this, please do not arrive at my doorstep with a citation in hand. I honestly didn't know.

It seems to me the easiest way would be to license the bike at the time of purchase from a dealer. A smaller scale version of car registration. Would the time to collect and distribute the funds and police the outcome be offset by the fees collected? Doubtful. The code does state the fee is to be used to improve bicycle safety programs and bike lanes. I suspect the fees collected, if any, are minimal right now as so many don't know about them.

I conducted a very unscientific poll on Palm Avenue asking riders going by if they knew of a bike licensing requirement in San Mateo. Eleven out of eleven said no.

People cycling are good for society. Less wear to the roads, better overall health of the population, less pollution, less traffic, less traffic accidents, and on and on. You make not care for the Lycra styles favored by so many serious bike riders but you cannot deny the positive impact on the community.

Everyone is a winner. And what would be the best way of discouraging people from bicycling? Making them leap through a host of bureaucratic hoops first.

So dear San Mateo, please take a moment to amend your codes to today's needs. If you want us to license then provide the info in a clear concise way available to most people. On-line for example. Don't discourage the riding population with a treasure hunt for where, how much, and when to pay yet another regulation. Let's make the time and monies spent for developing a great bike plan count in our city.

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